Tuesday, 17 August 2010

So little time & so little money

Sorry guys, I've been in such a rush these last few days to get back to Dunkirk I simply haven't had time to update, I haven't even had time to write something on open-office & paste it up here. I'm sat on the ferry now, it's about 2:00am local time, I managed to jump the queue from my original 4:00am booking, although I can't think why, as I've no money & none of my family (in Sussex) will be up when I get back, but the car's falling to bits & I'm ready for home now.

The last few days will be reported in my usual detail, all in due course. But I've done about 450km today & had no sleep yet, I'm not likely to sleep until at least this afternoon either, as I've got a very wet tent to dry out somewhere & plenty to do besides. The trouble is I still think I'm about 21 & can still go for days, which I can't. Camping's hard work, but has its' rewards.
I've taken plenty of pics though & have a few good stories left to tell, including a piece about all the little bits I forgot along the way, which is already started & has been slowly added to.
All in good time folks, I'm off for another coffee

Friday, 13 August 2010

Finally, I'm leaving the Dordogne

Well,I phoned my English contact, I actually ended up getting on with him quite well, I gave him a hand a few times, packing up canoes in the evenings, & he gave me some petrol money & bought me dinner & a few drinks. The consensus of opinion is that I would be better coming over in the early spring time, preferably with some money, & take on a job in order to build up some contacts. He was lucky enough to have family over here, so he stayed with them until he got on his feet, which is a luxury I don't have. Who knows what'll happen between now & the spring, time alone will tell, I guess.

Anyway, it's now friday, the 13th, of august & I'm very quickly running out of time, & money. My ferry sails from Dunkirk at 04:00am on wednesday the 17th, & to put it bluntly "I'm a fucking long way away!" I've still got a feeling the intermarche petrol pump has yet to release my 100€, but this will soon be confirmed with a quick look at my bank balance on line, the cash points over here don't let you do anything but take out cash, so I've no idea what's in each of my accounts, but I know it 'aint much!

So, I've left it very late but I'm now on my way east & slightly north, into the Massife Central, my excuse is I've gotta go where the camp sites are, although this next one is likely to be a one night stop, I've got far too much ground to cover to be staying any longer.

Anyway, I've not got much else to say,except I'm feeling a bit depressed that it's almost over & I've got to return to a country I'm not very fond of. My battery's running a bit low & I've got another 200km of twisty country/mountain roads to go before the next site. I'll have a quick look & see if I can find some good photos of the Dordogne before I sign off & bugger off.....

Here you go, make of them what you will.

Contemplation & Confit De Cannard

I'm now in the Dordogne, only about 200 miles away from Spain, which is a pitty, as I've got very little inclination to visit, I've never cared much for the spanish, especially their disgustingly brutal treatment of our bovine friends. I like a good steak as much as the next man, but I fail to see what good comes from tormenting it for hours first & then peppering it with painful, lead tipped paper darts shot from blow-pipes. Anyway, I'm going off on a massive tangent, that's enough of that. This area is beautiful, there's a few too many English tourists, but I'm ok, I haven't actually talked to any of them.
I followed my lead, given to me by the 2 guys at Montrichard, & found my British contact. He's been over here for about 20 years now, his circumstances were similar to mine when he fell in love with the place, & he certainly has some very promising sounding work contacts in the area. He was busy working when I saw him, but he made time for a quick chat & gave me his number & told me to call, which I have yet to do. I'm being a bit of a chicken, there's a big part of me that thinks I should leave well enough alone, continue the last week or so of my holiday & go home, completely broke, single & jobless, to a city I don't very much like, in a country I'm not too keen on as well, & continue with what I was doing, which was struggling & yearning for change!
I'm going to call the guy tonight, it'll cost me a fortune but the least I owe him is a few minutes friendly conversation & at least find out what my prospects would've been like, or weather I should think about trying to get a better grasp of the language & return next year, we will see, maybe he will convince me to give it a try for a few weeks, maybe he will tell me to go away, learn some French & come back when I know what I want.

Anyway, back to the camping holiday; it's lovely here, I'm perched on the side of a valley, on a farm. I'm so glad I finally got to try “Camping a la Ferme” (as they call it in “Le Guide”). It's all a bit wild here, the shower/toilet block is in an old barn & the road (or track) is a bit wobbly, but there's electric hook-up available at each pitch (for an extra 3€, so I haven't bothered) & plenty of hot water, so it's not all “back to the stone-age”. There are also plenty of fruit trees (not sure what's growing on them, they're either small plums or golden gauges, but they're very tasty) & plenty of animals, both domesticated & wild. There's 2 donkeys in the field below me, geese & chickens next to the shower block & I'm certain there was a wild pig of some kind sniffing round the tents last night, eating the fruit that had fallen from the surrounding trees, & making plenty of noise about it. This was at about 2:00am, then, a little later, something else came sniffing around my tent, & this time it wasn't scared away by my movement, it was much smaller, it sounded like a big shrew or something like that, I can't remember what they're called, but I'm sure there's something, common in France, that fits that description. There's probably a few of them, as there's lots of little holes in the ground, only a few feet away from my tent, there's also lots of those little lizards you see in France, they're scampering about all day, in the undergrowth, catching insects.

So, it looks like I'm off again tomorrow, unless tonight's phone call yields anything special. I've already been here a day longer than I had planned, all because I couldn't remember the international dialling code for France, so never made the call, I also spent the entire day on site, contemplating what I was going to do. When I went to bed I was sure I was going to make a go for it, try & find some work & see what happened, but I had drunk half a bottle by then. When I woke up I thought “who are you kidding?” but was up too late to leave today, so asked weather another night would be ok, which it was. The sites round here are very busy, on my way down I tried 4, one was full & the other 2 were very expensive, & their facilities were no better than here, in fact one of them was also “a la ferme” & they wanted about 15€ per night, plus the usual expenses, they usually charge separately for the pitch, tent/caravan, person(s) & accompanying vehicle, which hasn't worked out badly at all, with most municipals still working out around the 6€ per night mark, which is exactly what this site charges, a simple charge per person, dependant on age for children, very fair indeed, for this area.
I suppose I should tell you where I am, it's difficult as I'm not exactly sure myself, this site isn't in the book, it was just signposted from the road. According to the sat-nav I'm somewhere near a town called Les Eyzies-De-Tayac-Sireuil, about 56km east of Bergerac, on the road to Le Bugue, which was where I was headed, but the sites listed there were far too expensive, so I was trying my luck wherever I saw a sign & chanced upon this place, which honestly had only one pitch left, & it was raining, so I was just glad to stop & set up camp.
Anyhow, I'd better get off & make this call, it's also almost time for dinner, probably followed by yet another beautiful sunset over the valley, I have tried my best to catch this & will post the pics, although I'm sure they won't do it justice......

Oh yes, the “Confit de Cannard” bit in the title, I've discovered a taste for the stuff. I thought I would treat myself to a tin, for about 6€50, which I thought was expensive until I realised how many dinners it would do.
Well, I've had it 3 out of the last 5 dinners & thought that was it, until I spotted it in the local Aldi, an even bigger tin this time, & only 5€99! Couldn't believe my luck, as everything seems more expensive down here, not just the camping! I even spotted the very same tin I purchased last time (for around 6€50) for well over 10€ in Inter-Marché (I don't mind bad-mouthing them, as it was one of their petrolpumps I had an argument with & am still seething about). I will let you know if it's any good, & if it is, my family can expect some when I get back.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Erm... I'm up a mountain (& it's cold!)

OK, I'm on my way towards Bergerac & I've found a McDonalds, I think I'm in a place called Malemort, but I can't be certain. This post & the following 2 have all been written at various points on my journey, just waiting for that elusive wifi connection, so they can be unleashed onto the web, enjoy....

So, off I went, leaving Montapas & I never did get in touch with that English Boat owner in Chatillon-en-Bazois, “never mind” I thought, I'm off on a different track now, in search of an English contact, somewhere on the Dordogne river, who rents canoes, sounds like a mission.
I had a reasonable journey ahead of me, about 220km, which is about as long as I intend any of my journey legs to be. The sun was shining & the roads were reasonably quiet, I was in complete agreement with the sat-nav for most of the trip (for once), & I was heading towards Clearmont Ferrand in the Auvergne region. I couldn't help thinking I'd heard that somewhere before, “the Auvergne region” but couldn't place it, whatever, it was south & sounded sunny.
I was just passing through about my third major town (remember, I'm staying off the toll roads) when in front of me I saw a huge mountain range, with some very angry looking black clouds all over it, I even said to myself (remember, I'm travelling alone here, sometimes my best conversations are with myself) “that sky looks angry up there, I bet that's where I'm heading”, & sure enough, I was absolutely correct. This was the Auvergne mountains & the Auvergne volcanoes, & very dramatic they look too, it's a shame my phone camera (the only camera I have with me) doesn't do very good shots of landscapes, but I will try & get a few before I move on.
So, I continued on, following the commanding female voice of the sat-nav (she's not the best conversationalist I've ever travelled with) & we hit the mountains. The roads are all pretty small & very winding, the rain was treacherous & most of the other drivers seemed oblivious to this, this is another thing I have found in France, they drive like maniacs in the wet, most of them are now driving modern cars, thanks to the scrappage scheme, & as I've always said, these modern cars just don't give you the “feel” of the road & just how little traction you've actually got, but hey, if they wanna kill themselves, who am I to stop them? So I went up & up & up, then down a bit, then up some more, passing many ski shops (all closed at this time of year obviously), & all this time thinking to myself “I'll come down the other side any moment & it'll be bright sunshine”, well, this didn't happen. I'm now camped on a small municipal site in the village of Saint Donat, the surrounding scenery is breathtaking, & some of the small surrounding towns & villages are beautiful. My only problem now is it seems to rain a lot round here, & compared with the other places I've been it's pretty cold, but, apart from all the cows in the surrounding fields having bells on, it would appear I've finally found my peace & quiet I've been looking for these past few days.
The nearest McDonalds is over 50km away, so I won't be going there. My previous 2 posts were written sat in the car in a picturesque aire (layby) & this one is being written sat outside a bar in the skiing village of Besse, just waiting for my Croque Monsieur & coffee for lunch.
My next stop will be the Dordogne river (which I've already seen as a small mountain stream up here), hopefully I will be back down in the sunshine, although this has been a welcome break from the wasps, if nothing else.

Ah, “Auvergne!” Isn't that where the volvic mineral water comes from? No wonder it's so cheap, all is seems to do is rain up here! To be honest, the tap water tastes the same round these parts, & probably is!

These are just a few of the many shots I got of this region, some of which I actually took while I was driving (naughty-naughty!), but everywhere you looked, every little gap in the hedge simply yielded another fantastic, breathtaking view. It might have been cold & it may have rained a lot, but this has to be one of my favourite areas yet! Enjoy.....

Lake-side site & down to earth

So, the guys at Montrichard camp site told me about an English friend of theirs in the Dordogne area, they said that if I had intentions of perhaps staying on in France, maybe even a future over here, then my original plans to go to Provence would most likely prove fruitless. They informed me that it's a very long way & there aren't many English people down there. So I thought “what the hell” I'll go down the Dordogne instead.
But first, I felt I needed to re-visit a small town called Chatillon-en-Bazois, near Nevers, in the Nievre area of the Bourgogne region. This is where my parents boat was moored until last year, when my dad & me bought it back to England (another long trip I should've blogged). There's an English boat owner down there who may be able to get me some free camping for a few nights. So that's where I headed.
On arrival, I found the boat-stop area on the canal, stopped there for about 20 mins to stretch my legs & get my head together (still feeling the ill effects of Montrichard). I failed to find the English boat owner & remembered he likes a drink as well, so decided to consult my copy of “Le Guide” to find a camp site. It informed me there was a small town called Montapas with a small municipal, just up the road (about 7km away).
When I got there I found a small, man made, lake with a kind of beach area (quite popular in France, for families & young adults with loud car stereos!). There was indeed camping facilities, some pitches up the top, separated by hedges, & an area down a small track on the lake-side, right down the other end of the lake. This looked very nice, there was already a couple of Dutch camper-vans down there, so I picked a nice shaded spot by the waters edge & set up camp. I really needed some supplies but figured I had enough for a couple of nights & would get all I needed en-route to my next destination.
I still wasn't up to eating much, & was beginning to wonder if I was actually ill, Bernard had said something about the water at Montrichard, & blamed it for him being ill every morning (“likely story” I thought), it had all left me feeling a bit depressed as well, & I felt a couple of days of peace & quiet would hopefully sort me out.
So, just as it was getting dark, 2 cars turned up, stereos blasting, & out got 2 lads & 2 girls (& a dog). They set up their tent & although a bit noisy, proved to be no trouble really. Then another 2 cars drew up, with 2 blokes, a young woman & her 2 or 3 little kids. They proceded to go into the woods, find as many logs as they could, get the bottles out, get the radio out, use the shower/toilet facilities & have a big campfire party until about 4:30am the next morning! During this time my air bed decided it would be a good time to spring a leak! Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night, when I really needed it most.
The next night wasn't so bad, I made an attempt to repair the bed with some Tenacious Tape (which kind of held, but didn't really have enough time to cure).
Then it was time to move on again, I found the small village in the Dordogne that the guys in Montrichard had told me about, it was over 400km away, so I managed to find somewhere in between, in a small village called Saint-Donat, that was my destination.
My journey, therefore, was on a Sunday, I left the site at Montapas, the manager wasn't there so I handed the boy (helper) an envelope with my pass-key & 10€ in it & told him I wasn't happy, it was too noisy & I wasn't prepared to wait for the manager. I have no idea if he ever got his 10€, the boy looked at me like I was a mad-man for leaving this envelope, I couldn't really care less, I had bigger things on my mind, like where was I going to get some tobacco & find a petrol station that was open (to take cash) on a sunday?
I found a bar-tabac in a small village I passed through & got my baccy, then I spotted a cheap petrol station which took cards. Now, in France, the card operated petrol pumps automatically take about 100€-120€ as a deposit from your account, I knew I had about 150€-200€ in that account, so only had one try. I did all the right things, it was all going well, I had asked for “sans-plomb 95” regular unleaded, it said to start filling, when I lifted the nozzle (light green with 95 written on it) an american voice told me I had picked up the wrong nozzle! The screen then flashed up “DECLINED” & it spat out a receipt for 0.00€! That was it, I was fucked! I tried again & it said declined before I even got to say which type of petrol I wanted.
I had about 60€ in cash on me, but on a sunday, in France that usually won't be any good. I got as far as Decize (a very pretty little town on the Loire river & also on a canal, I think it's the Canal De Nivernais). I found a petrol station, not as cheap as the other one, but it looked open. It was one of those old fashioned ones on the pavement, & it was on the wrong side of the road but I pulled in anyway. Out came a rather stocky biker type, who turned out to be Dutch, he spoke perfect English, loved my car & told me he was off to England (Birmingham) in 2 days for a biker rally. He also asked where I was going, I told him “the Dordogne, near Bergerac” & he said it's nice there & the food is very good.
Thankfully, the 40€ I put in the tank there took me to my next site, at St-Donat, & boy was I in for a shock there.....

These are a couple of choice shots of the picturesque lakeside site

Montrichard & the "Gueule de Bois"

Well, it must've been over a week since I last updated this blog & that's not because nothing's happened, I've either been too ill or too far away from a wifi connection.
I believe I had just landed at Montrichard last time I wrote, after leaving Stu & Syb at Le Chant D'Oiseau. The site at Montrichard was quite a big one, & had a few English campers as well. I think it was my second day there when I met another lone English traveller called Bernard, he wasn't so much a traveller but had some connections with Montrichard & a small amount of work to do there for another English family.
I was still doing really well, keeping my camp clean & tidy, keeping up with all my washing-up & laundry & cooking myself some decent meals. I even got round to visiting a small museum in Montrichard, it was devoted to heavy vehicles, only cost 4€ & proved to be quite interesting.
Anyway, one night, Bernard came over with a bottle of pink champagne & asked if I fancied a drink, I'd just eaten a good meal & had some red so didn't see a problem. Once that was gone he spotted my other 2 bottles, bought that day in Netto, so nothing special. Once I had tried to keep up with him in drinking those he went off to the site office to buy another bottle (most site offices sell the local plonk for about 5€/bottle), he came back over half an hour later, he'd been drinking with the 2 guys who run the site & said we should go up there, I'd had enough by then but went along anyway. The 4 of us polished off another bottle then out came the calvados, coffee & some other rocket-fuel that appeared to come out of the freezer.
Needless to say a good night was had by all, Bernard passed out just outside his tent with his cooker on full blast (which I managed to turn off on my way past & convince him to get into his tent). The next morning I woke up with a “Gueule de Bois” (look it up) to rival all past ill-mornings. I managed to make myself a coffee, had a chat with Bernard & told him I was off back to bed. As soon as I laid down I knew a very fast trip to the toilet was in order, where the remains of last nights dinner & my morning coffee made a brief re-appearance. I spent the rest of the day in bed, when I was supposed to be moving on, managed to eat some malt loaf (another British delicacy I managed to smuggle over) & drank plenty of water, none of which stopped me throwing up again in the afternoon, this time I was delayed by Bernard, chatting away, & only made it to a hedge, just in time for one of the site managers to drive past! (very embarrassing).
The whole situation left me feeling very unwell for days, & I was ready to pack it all in & head back to Dunkirk. The following day I apologised to the site managers, paid up & left. I think they felt guilty as they knocked nearly 6€ off my bill!
I managed to explain to them that I hadn't come to France to drink with English people, I can do that at home & usually avoid it like the plague. They were kind enough to convince me to continue with my travels & even convinced me to change my plans, more of that on my next post.
Until then, if you want to enjoy a holiday in France, stay away from boozy English folk. Even now, a week later, the most I've managed is a glass or two with my dinner, & I feel so much better for it.

Here's a few pics of the walk into the town of Montrichard, along the river Cher, from the camp site.

And here's a couple of choice shots from the Museum of Heavy Vehicles, in Montrichard

And, finally, a couple of the site itself, my pitch to be exact.